The Tupolev Tu-22 "Blinder" & Tu-22M "Backfire"

v1.0.5 / 01 jul 20 / greg goebel

* In the early 1960s, the Soviet Union introduced a twin-engine supersonic jet bomber, the Tupolev "Tu-22", into service. The Tu-22 left something to be desired, and in the 1980s it led to a much improved successor, the "Tu-22M". This document provides a history and description of the Tu-22 and Tu-22M.

Tupolev Tu-22M3 Backfire

[5] TU-22M2 DESCRIBED / TU-22M3


* In the early 1950s, the Red Air Force (Voyenno Vozdushniye Sily / VVS) acquired the Tupolev Tu-16 strategic bomber, known as the "Badger" by NATO. The Tu-16 was an excellent and flexible aircraft -- in fact, it remains in extensive service in China -- but aircraft design was advancing at a rapid clip in the 1950s, and the introduction of faster Western interceptor aircraft led the VVS to consider possible successors.

Even before the introduction of the Tu-16, Andrei Tupolev's experimental design bureau (OKB in its Russian acronym) had been conducting studies on a set of large supersonic combat aircraft designs for a variety of possible roles -- long-range interceptor, bomber, or reconnaissance platform. Formal design work on a tactical strike aircraft, a medium bomber, and a heavy long-range missile carrier was initiated in 1954. The long-range missile carrier program came to nothing, at least over the short term, but the other two efforts resulted in production aircraft. The tactical strike aircraft was given the company designation of "Samolet 98 (Aircraft 98)", and though it would not be produced itself, it would lead to the "Tu-128" heavy interceptor.

The medium bomber effort was initially given the company designation of "Samolet 103". The original concept featured four engines; it proved unsatisfactory, and so it was completely rethought as a twin-engine aircraft, with the new design designated "Samolet 105". The basic design was solid by the end of 1955, with work then moving forward on a prototype. The initial prototype was completed in December 1957, but getting it flightworthy was troublesome and it didn't perform its initial flight until 21 June 1958.

OKB engineers had been working on improvements since before the flight of the first prototype, and so the second prototype, the "Samolet 105A", featured a number of significant changes, most prominently discarding the retraction of the main landing gear into the wing to permit a thinner wing, modifying the aircraft so the main landing gear retracted back into a pod on the rear of each wing -- these landing-gear pods being something of a trademark for large Tupolev jet aircraft of the period. The Samolet 105A performed its initial flight on 7 September 1959. A third prototype, a static test machine, was also built.

Production was authorized during that year, with State Factory Number 22 in Kazan to build the aircraft. Two models were to be built concurrently: the "Tu-22B" bomber and the "Tu-22R" reconnaissance platform, with "B" standing for "Bombardirovschik / Bomber" and "R" standing for "Razvedchik / Reconnaissance". Work on the first production aircraft went ahead, even though the Samolet 105A was lost on its seventh flight, on 21 December 1959 -- the radio operator successfully ejecting, the pilot and navigator being killed. That was a omen of things to come.

The first three production machines, which were Tu-22Bs, were rolled out in the late summer of 1960, with initial flight of a production machine on 22 September 1960 -- though this aircraft was lost on 17 November 1960, with an engine failure leading to a belly landing and a fire that destroyed the aircraft. The crew survived the accident. The Tu-22 was clearly not getting off to a good start, but it was still displayed to the public during the Tushino / Moscow Aviation Day airshow on 9 July 1961. NATO toyed with assigning it the reporting name of "Bullshot", then "Beauty", but finally settled on "Blinder". The prototype became "Blinder-A" when later variants emerged.



* The Tu-22B was a big, sleek aircraft, built mostly of aircraft aluminum alloys, with a dartlike fuselage, with all swept flight surfaces, twin Dobrynin VD-7M afterburning turbojets with one on each side of the tailfin, and tricycle landing gear. It was an attractive aircraft in a somewhat sinister way. Due to its pointed configuration, the Tu-22 was generally nicknamed "Shilo (Awl)" in service.

The wing was low mounted, with a 45-degree sweep except for a short, highly swept "leading edge root extension" next to the fuselage. There was a prominent wing fence outboard and large spindle-shaped fairing for the main landing gear on the back of each wing; there was a large split flap straddling the landing-gear fairing and an aileron outboard on each wing. The fuselage was "wasp waisted" where the wings mated to the fuselage as per the "area ruling" principle, in which changes in overall aircraft cross-section were made as gradual as possible to improve transonic handling. The tailplanes were of "all moving" configuration.

The VD-7M engines provided 157 kN (16,000 kgp / 32,280 lbf) afterburning thrust each. From 1965, all Tu-22 production had similar but uprated RD-7M2 engines with 162 kN (16,500 kgp / 36,380 lbf) afterburning thrust; earlier machines still in service were refitted with the newer engines. Each main landing gear assembly had four wheels in a 2x2 bogie arrangement, with the landing gear retracting backwards into the wing fairing. Chaff dispensers were fitted into the rear of the fairings. There were twin wheels on the nose gear assembly, which also retracted backwards. Twin cruciform drag chutes were fitted in the tail to reduce landing roll.

All offensive stores were carried in an internal bombbay. A typical conventional warload was 12 tonnes (13.2 tons), consisting of 24 FAB-500 500-kilogram (1,100-pound) general-purpose bombs. There was a pop-out ram-air turbine (RAT) for emergency power next to the bombbay. Defensive armament consisted of a remote-controlled tail turret with twin RP-23 23-millimeter automatic cannon, under the direction of a PARS-3 Argon-2 radar fire direction system plus a closed-circuit TV camera -- mounted on top of and between the engines -- handled by a gunner in the forward cockpit.

There were three crew: a navigator in the nose, a pilot in the cockpit, and a gunner / radio operator behind the pilot. All three sat on K-22 downward-firing ejection seats, with a minimum safe ejection altitude of 250 meters (820 feet). The ejection seats could be lowered through hatches out the bottom of the fuselage -- and in fact, that's the only way the crew could get into and out of the aircraft. There was a navigation / bombing radar in the nose, with what appears to have been a port for an optical bombsight system behind it, plus windows alongside the nose for the navigator. The pilot sat in a heavily-framed cockpit, while the gunner / radio operator had a window along each side of his cockpit.

The Tu-22B did not have intercontinental range, and was not intended for strikes on the continental USA. Instead, it was targeted at the USSR's neighbors -- Western Europe and China -- and for attacks on Western naval groups. In operation it was to follow a "HI-LO-HI" flight profile, flying to the target area at high altitude, dropping to low altitude for penetration, and then performing a pop-up attack on the target. The aircraft was to cruise at high subsonic speed and then accelerate to Mach 1.5 for a dash to the target.

Tupolev Tu-22P Blinder-E, Tu-22U Blinder-D

* Only 15 Tu-22Bs were built. They were so bug-ridden and troublesome in general that they never entered line service, being used for evaluation and training. NATO never assigned a specific reporting name to that variant. The Tu-22R reconnaissance machine, however, was built in quantity, with 127 produced, half going to VVS bomber regiments, the other half to Red Navy ocean reconnaissance squadrons.

It was very difficult to tell a Tu-22R from the Tu-22B, the major difference being that the Tu-22R had film camera gear in the nose and on a film camera pallet that could be installed in the bombbay. An electronic countermeasures (ECM) system could be swapped out with the film camera pallet to permit the Tu-22R to be used as an "escort jammer", accompanying strike packages to blind adversary radars. The Tu-22R could also be used as a bomber, and retained the bomb-nav system of the Tu-22B.

The Tu-22R entered service in 1962, with NATO giving the variant the reporting name of "Blinder-C". From 1962, a nose probe was fitted for probe-&-drogue aerial refueling, with aircraft mounting the probe redesignated "Tu-22RD", where "D" stood for "Dalniy (Long Range)". These machines also featured the uprated RD-7M2 engines; early production machines were upgraded to the Tu-22RD standard.

In the 1970s, some Tu-22RDs were upgraded with a Kub electronic intelligence (ELINT) system, these machines being redesignated "Tu-22RDK". Very late in their service careers, a small number of Tu-22RD/RDKs were converted to the "Tu-22RDM" spec, which featured improved reconnaissance kit -- including a Shompol side-looking airborne radar (SLAR) installed in the bombbay, with a prominent belly fairing -- and updated ECM self-defense systems.

* The Tu-22 turned out to be a handful to fly, and so a trainer variant with a stepped rear cockpit designated the "Tu-22U" was built to get pilots up to speed on the type, the "U" standing for "Uchyebniye / Trainer". The Tu-22U lacked the tail turret, but it was fitted (at least after initial production) with an inflight refueling probe. The trainer was introduced to service in 1963, and 46 were built; NATO designated it the "Blinder-D". It is unclear if any were supplied to the Red Navy, or if they were strictly operated by the VVS.

* The reason the Tu-22B bomber never entered service was because by the early 1960s the high-speed free-fall bomber was seen as an obsolete concept, too easily shot down by surface-to-air missiles (SAMS). In fact, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev believed that piloted bombers were becoming completely obsolete and that missiles would do a better job. In order to keep up with the times, the Tu-22 was recast as a "missile carrier", the designation "bomber" being carefully avoided, carrying the "Kh-22" (NATO AS-4 "Kitchen") rocket-propelled stand-off missile. The Kh-22 had a range of up to 550 kilometers (340 miles), with range roughly proportional to launch altitude. The Kh-22 was designed for both ground target and antiship attack and normally carried a nuclear warhead, though a conventional warhead was an option.

The Tu-22 was modified to carry the dartlike Kh-22 missile semi-externally under the belly, with the new variant of the aircraft designated "Tu-22K". The Tu-22K was also fitted with a Rubin-1 / PN (NATO "Down Beat") radar for navigation and missile control, with the radar housed a distinctively bulged nose radome. The development program proved troublesome, with the project coming close to being canceled, and the Tu-22K wasn't introduced to service until 1967. A total of 76 Tu-22Ks was built. Some were supplied to the Red Navy for trials, but in service they all served with the VVS, the Red Navy operating Tu-16 missile carriers instead. The Tu-22Ks were later fitted with inflight refueling probes and RD-7M2 engines, to be redesignated "Tu-22KD" and with early production upgraded to the Tu-22KD spec. NATO gave the type the reporting name of "Blinder-B".

   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   wingspan                23.6 meters         77 feet 5 inches
   wing area               162.25 sq_meters    1,746.5 sq_feet   
   length                  41.6 meters         136 feet 6 inches
   height                  10 meters           32 feet 10 inches

   normal loaded weight    84,000 kilograms    185,185 pounds
   MTO weight              94,000 kilograms    207,230 pounds

   max speed at altitude   1,510 KPH           940 MPH / 815 KT
   service ceiling         13,300 meters       43,635 feet
   range                   4,900 kilometers    3,045 MI / 2,650 NMI
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

Some Tu-22Ks were built as or converted to a "defense suppression" configuration, designated the "Tu-22KPD". They carried ELINT gear to spot adversary radar sites, which were then to be attacked by a radar-homing version of the Kh-22, designated "Kh-22P".

* The last production variant of the Tu-22 was the "Tu-22P", which was an electronic warfare (EW) variant. Its primary payload was a REB-EK ELINT system stowed in the bombbay and marked by a prominent belly airscoop for cooling. The Tu-22P's primary rationale was to locate and characterize Western naval assets from their radio emissions, for attack by the Tu-22K's Kh-22 missile. The Tu-22P also carried ECM systems to jam adversary radars and protect the Tu-22Ks.

While initially the Tu-22P had the tail turret, it was later swapped out for an ECM system; other Tu-22 variants were similarly also upgraded to the tail ECM system. A total of 47 Tu-22Ps was built, for a sum of 313 Tu-22s, counting the two flight prototypes, all built at the Kazan factory. Two subvariants of the Tu-22P, the "Tu-22P-1" and "Tu-22P-2" with slightly different equipment fits were delivered from the factory. Over time, in-service equipment upgrades produced additional subvariants up to "Tu-22P-7". It is not clear if any Tu-22Ps were supplied to the Red Navy; given that the Tu-22P was associated with the Tu-22K, it seems unlikely. NATO assigned the variant the reporting name of "Blinder-E". The Tu-22P was upgraded in production with the nose probe and RD-7M2 engines, to be redesignated "Tu-22PD", with early production upgraded to the same spec.

* The following table summarizes Tu-22 variants and construction:

  variant      NATO       built  mod  notes
  Samolet 105                 1         Initial flight prototype.
  Samolet 105A                1         Second flight prototype.

  Tu-22B                     15         Bomber variant, never fielded.

  Tu-22R       Blinder-C    127         Reconnaissance variant.
  Tu-22RD      Blinder-C      -   all*  Tu-22R with nose probe.
  Tu-22RDK     Blinder-C      -     ?   Mid-term Tu-22RD update.
  Tu-22RDM     Blinder-C      -     ?   Late-term Tu-22RD update.

  Tu-22U       Blinder-D     46         Trainer.

  Tu-22K       Blinder-B     76         Missile carrier.
  Tu-22KD      Blinder-B      -   all*  Tu-22K with nose probe.
  Tu-22KPD     Blinder-B      -     ?   Defense suppression conversion.

  Tu-22P       Blinder-E     47         EW platform.
  Tu-22PD      Blinder-E      -   all*  Tu-22P with nose probe.

                            313         TOTAL TU-22 PRODUCTION

  * In this context, "all" means "most or all surviving machines".



* The Tu-22 was impressive in appearance and performance, but it was generally detested by aircrews, making a sad comparison with the reliable and docile Tu-16. The Tu-22 was rushed into service with inadequate qualification and early on its reliability was poor, requiring a long string of fixes and being often in need of repairs. It took over a decade to work out the major bugs. Worse, even after the bugs were fixed, it was still a beast. Andrei Tupolev himself called it "one of my more unfortunate creations."

There was no copilot and the controls were so heavy that, even with autopilot assist, two sorties a day would wear out the strongest pilot. The lack of fine sensitivity in the controls made midair refueling very troublesome, since it was difficult to match speed with a tanker aircraft. The Tu-22 had a high stall speed, more than 290 KPH (180 KPH), and ceased to be aerodynamic below that speed with little or no warning. The landing gear was bouncy and tended to be weak.

Cockpit ergonomics were wretched, with crews improvising pull strings and hooks to get at controls that were otherwise out of reach. Field of view was terrible in all three stations; if landed in a stiff crosswind, resulting in the axis of the aircraft tilted from its line of flight, the pilot could barely see the runway. Tu-22P aircrews described their mount as "a marvelous reconnaissance aircraft in which the pilot who should see the runway can only see the sky, the navigator who should see the terrain in front can only see it below, and the weapons officer who should keep an eye out over the tail can only see the wing."

The Tu-22K missile carrier was even worse off because the Kh-22 was fueled by storable liquid propellants, which were so toxic and corrosive that ground service crews had to wear full protective suits to get near the missile. The propellants were also "hypergolic", meaning they spontaneously ignited when mixed together; a landing accident with a Kh-22 on the belly was a dreadful prospect. The downward-firing ejection seats on all Tu-22 variants were, to no surprise, particularly disliked because they all but ensured that low-altitude accidents would be fatal. Of the 313 Tu-22s built, over 70 were lost in accidents, a loss rate of greater than 20%, with safe escape of the crew being the exception and not the norm. There were cases of aircrews going on the sicklist rather than fly the thing.

Ground service crews were not happy with the Tu-22 either, since it stood high off the ground, and generally required scaffolding for routine external servicing. The engines, perched above the fuselage on the tailfin, were a particular nuisance; the mounting scheme was aerodynamically effective but a maintenance headache. One of the few prized things about the Tu-22 was that hydraulic and de-icing systems required 450 liters (119 US gallons) of pure grain alcohol, and so the Tu-22 was sometimes nicknamed the "booze carrier" as a play on the Tu-22K's designation of "missile carrier" -- apparently the VVS never bothered to denature the stuff to render it undrinkable, possibly out of fears personnel would try to drink it anyway.

* The Tu-22 fleet was primarily assigned two specific missions: nuclear strikes on Western Europe, and attacks of the US Navy's Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean. Pre-strike intelligence for targeting was to be obtained by the Tu-22R reconnaissance platform, with attacks conducted by the Tu-22K with its Kh-22 missile and protection provided by the Tu-22P EW platform.

In the 1970s, the US Navy introduced a fleet defense system based on the Grumman E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft and the Grumman F-14 Tomcat interceptor, which carried the long-range Phoenix air-to-air missile (AAM). The Hawkeye / Tomcat / Phoenix combination did much to neutralize the Tu-22, with the Hawkeye able to see the attackers well before they got in range to launch Kh-22s, and the Phoenix able to destroy both the Tu-22s and Kh-22 missiles. From the 1980s the Tu-22 was generally replaced as a strike asset by better aircraft; it never had been particularly impressive in that role, being only able to carry a single missile. It was retained in the reconnaissance role through the decade.

The only combat service of the Tu-22 in Soviet service was in Afghanistan, with a handful of Tu-22PDs used to protect VVS bombers from Pakistani air defenses. The Tu-22 did, however, see active combat with other air arms. The only export users were Libya and Iraq, which were provided with a number of Tu-22Bs -- the quantity is unclear, maybe a dozen to each nation, the machines being hand-me-downs conversions of Tu-22Rs, along with a number of Tu-22Us for flight training -- and both used the Blinder in shooting wars.

The initial combat operations of the Libyan Tu-22B force took place in 1979, when Uganda was at war with Tanzania. Ugandan dictator Idi Amin asked for support from Libya, and in response two Tu-22Bs performed a strike on the town of Mwanza, Tanzania, though the strike caused no real damage. In the next decade, Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi supported an insurgency in neighboring Chad, with Tu-22s performing a number of strikes in 1980, 1983, 1986, and 1987. The raids accomplished little, being more in the order of demonstrations, usually being conducted by only one or two aircraft -- apparently the Libyans didn't have the capability of mounting bigger strikes. Two were shot down by surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) in 1987. Libyan Tu-22s also performed a number of strikes in the Sudan in 1984 and 1985, initially against the Sudanese government and then, after the government was overthrown and replaced by one friendly to Libya, in support of the government against insurgents.

Iraqi Tu-22s performed combat missions against Iran during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. At the outset of the conflict in September 1980, Tu-22s conducted attacks on Tehran and Isfahan, followed by an intermittent pattern of strikes against Iranian cities at intervals separated by periods in which the Iraqi Tu-22s performed selective strikes on specific targets. In the spring of 1988, Iraqi Tu-22s also began antishipping strikes, damaging two tankers. The war ended in 1988, with the Iraqi Tu-22 force much depleted, with up to seven aircraft lost in the fighting, the Iranians claiming the destruction of at least three. It is unclear if any saw action in the First Gulf War in 1991:1992; it seems likely they did not survive the conflict.

A few Tu-22s were used in test and trials during the service lifetime of the type, in some cases being redesignated "Tu-22LL", where "LL" stood for "letayuschschaya laboritoriya (flying lab)", which was a common if not universal designation suffix for Soviet test and trials machines. Somewhat surprisingly given its deficiencies, the Tu-22 lingered in service into the 1990s. With the final collapse of the USSR in 1991, some ended up in the hands of Ukraine, but they were not wanted. Most Tu-22s ended up being scrapped. It is now entirely out of service.



* From 1959, even as the Tu-22 was undergoing trials, the Soviet Union worked on the development of a more capable intermediate-range bomber, which would emerge as the Sukhoi "T-4", the Soviet answer to the North American XB-70. From 1962 the Tupolev OKB pushed a less sophisticated and expensive alternative, the "Samolet 145". Khrushchev had preferred the T-4, which was to be armed with the "Molniya (Lightning)" air-launched ballistic missile, and was cool to Tupolev's ideas. However, after Khrushchev was ousted in 1964, Tupolev was able to dust off the Samolet 145 concept and promote it as a Kh-22 missile carrier -- a direct replacement for the Tu-22, whose deficiencies were painfully apparent by that time.

The expectation had been that the Tu-22 would replace the Tu-16, but the Tu-22 simply wasn't up to the task; the Tu-16 had to soldier on even as it grew ever more obsolete, making development of a proper replacement urgent. In addition, in the mid-1960s China emerged as a greater threat to the USSR. Kremlin leadership decided that the T-4 would be overkill for dealing with China; the cheaper and less sophisticated Samolet 145 was seen as a more cost-effective tool for the job. Approval for development of the Samolet 145 was granted in 1967. The T-4 flew as a prototype, but did not enter production.

To enhance the notion that the Samolet 145 was a direct replacement for the Tu-22, it was assigned the service designation of "Tu-22M", with the initial flight of the first of nine "Tu-22M0" pre-production machines on 30 August 1969. All were built at the Kazan plant, as would be following variants. Exactly who was to be fooled by the designation game is unclear, since the Tu-22M looked entirely different from the Tu-22. The only thing it really had in common with its predecessor, aside from a few assemblies like the bombbay doors, was the Kh-22 missile.

Tupolev Tu-22M0

The last of the nine pre-series machines was delivered in 1971. One was spotted by a US spy satellite in 1970 -- it may have been a deliberate revelation, the Soviets were knowledgeable of US spy satellite capabilities and orbits -- to be given the NATO reporting name of "Backfire-A". The pre-series machines were immediately followed by the "Tu-22M1", which were supposedly to be production machines. It didn't turn out that way, since the aircraft was still in need of more work, and only nine Tu-22M1s were built. In practice, the Tu-22M1s were evaluation machines. It is believed that seven of them did end up in naval aviation service, but the first real production version was the "Tu-22M2", with 211 built from 1972 to 1983.

The aircraft went into both VVS service, for strategic bombing, and with Naval Aviation, for antiship strike. A US spysat spotted one in 1973 and NATO designated it the "Backfire-B". The West did not get clear images of the type until 1979, when one flew a circuit of the Baltic to permit a photoshoot by Swedish fighters. Interestingly, Soviet crews rather liked the snappy sound of the NATO reporting name, and often referred to the machine as the "Backfire" themselves.


[5] TU-22M2 DESCRIBED / TU-22M3

* The Tu-22M2 was a sleek, powerful machine with low-mounted variable geometry (VG) wings, a conventional swept tail arrangement, and tricycle landing gear. The VG wings were seated in hefty fixed "wing gloves" with a leading-edge sweep of 60 degrees and a large wing fence near the wing hinge. The wings could be set to 20 degrees for take-off and landings; 30 degrees for cruise; 50 degrees for low-altitude penetration; and 60 degrees for a supersonic dash into the target area. There was a large slotted flap on the rear of each wing glove, with a three-segment slotted flap on the rear of each wing; of course, the flaps on the wings only worked when the wings were extended.

Each wing also had a leading-edge slat and, just forward of the flaps, three spoilers, which were used for lift dumping and airbraking; there were no ailerons. The tailplanes were all-moving and presumably could be pivoted in alternating directions to assist with roll control. The tailfin had a very large forward fillet; early trials had demonstrated the tailfin was "blanked out" by the broad fuselage and wing gloves at high angles of attack, and so the tailfin area was increased by the fillet to retain yaw control authority.

The Tu-22M2 was powered by two Kuznetsov NK-22 afterburning bypass turbojets with a maximum thrust of 196 kN (20,000 kgp / 44,090 lbf), mounted on the sides of the fuselage, the Tupolev OKB having accepted that the "Blinder's" engine mounting scheme left something to be desired. The NK-22 was derived from the similar NK-144 engine developed for the Tupolev Tu-144 supersonic transport. In fact, slightly modified NK-144-22 engines were actually used on the TU-22M0, but the engine design required more substantial tweaks to improve fuel economy and permit the "Backfire" to meet its range spec.

The NK-22 engines were fed by dee-type variable inlets, which were preceded by large "splitter plates" to prevent ingestion of stagnant "boundary layer" air hugging the fuselage. There were nine auxiliary inlet doors on each inlet housing, just parallel to the front of the wing glove; given normal Soviet design practice, they were probably hydraulically actuated. There were fuel tanks in the fuselage, the tail, the wing gloves, and even the swing wings. There was also an inflight refueling probe in the nose, though as discussed below it wouldn't turn out to be a permanent fixture. A TA-6 auxiliary power unit (APU) turbine was fitted in the tailfin for ground power and engine starting; there were noticeable inlet and exhaust vents on the sides of the tailfin to mark the APU's location.

The landing gear was designed for unprepared field operation. The nose gear had twin wheels and retracted backwards, while each main gear assembly had six wheels, in a 2x3 bogie arrangement, and retracted straight in to the fuselage from its pivot in the wing glove. The Tu-22M0 had actually used the traditional Tupolev wing-pod scheme and its main gear retracted backwards in the pods, which is why it was straightforward to tell a "Backfire-A" from a "Backfire-B" in satellite photos. The Tu-22M2 had twin brake chutes and a runway arresting hook. There were hardpoints under the fuselage to permit attachment of four rocket-assisted take-off (RATO) boosters.

The main weapon for the Tu-22M2 was the Kh-22M or Kh-22MA missile -- improved models of the Kh-22, carried semi-recessed on the belly, as with the Tu-22K. The bombbay could be reconfigured for hauling conventional bombs. A stores pylon could be attached under each wing glove, with each carrying a Kh-22 or a multiple ejector rack (MER) for conventional bombs. A MER could also be attached under each engine nacelle, for a total of five stores stations. With the wing pylons, two Kh-22Ms could be carried on a missile sortie, or in potential three if the belly station was used, though range suffered drastically. For conventional strike, typical warloads could be 69 FAB-250 250-kilogram (550-pound) general purpose (GP) bombs and 42 FAB-500 500-kilogram (1,100-pound) GP bombs, or eight FAB-1500 1500-kilogram (3,300-pound) GP bombs and two FAB-3000 (6,600 pound) GP bombs. Naval Aviation Tu-22M2s could carry maritime mines as an alternative payload.

For strikes on Western naval assets, the Tu-22M2 was linked into the satellite-based "Legenda" system. The Soviets developed two types of spy satellites to keep track of Western naval assets: the nuclear-powered "US-A Radar Ocean Reconnaissance Satellite (RORSAT)", and the "US-P Electronic Intelligence Ocean Reconnaissance Satellite (EORSAT)". While the US-A RORSAT actively hunted vessels with its powerful radar, the US-P EORSAT located and categorized them from their radio and radar emissions. In either case, the satellites located targets and cued the Kh-22M / Kh-22MA into the target area, where the missile active radar seeker could perform a terminal attack.

The Tu-22M2 also had a tail turret with dual 23-millimeter GSh-23 two-barrel cannon, aimed by an Argon-2 radar fire-control system and a closed-circuit TV system. From the sight of it, the tail guns were a ridiculous anachronism; any interceptor that got the Tu-22M2 in its sights could pick off the bomber by firing an AAM from out of gun range. In an interesting compromise, the cannon were actually used as part of the defensive countermeasures system, firing flare shells to distract heat-seeking missiles and chaff shells to blind radar-guided missiles. The scheme seems a bit unorthodox at first, but being able to fire countermeasures directly at a threat sounds like a useful idea.

There were four crew, seated in a 2x2 arrangement: commander (left front seat), copilot (right front), communications officer (left rear), and navigator (right rear). Each got into and out of the aircraft using a roll-up platform through individual doors that hinged up on the centerline. Thankfully, upward-firing ejection seats were fitted, though the KT-1 seats were not capable of "zero-zero" (zero altitude zero speed) operation -- while they worked at any altitude, for all four crew to get out the aircraft had to be moving at a speed of at least 300 KPH (185 MPH). The cockpit was pressurized and climate conditioned. An inflatable dinghy was included for ditching at sea.

There was a PN-A bombing-navigation radar system (NATO reporting name "Down Beat") under the nose; while the Tu-22M2 was not capable of true "nap of earth" flight, the radar could be linked to the aircraft's autopilot system to provide an automated low-altitude flight system. There was TV-based backup optical bombsight in a fairing under the cockpit. The Tu-22M2 featured a comprehensive defensive countermeasures suite, including a Sirena-3 radar warning receiver (with a fairing at the top of the tailfin) and radio-frequency jammers, along with the countermeasures-oriented tail turret.

Tupolev Tu-22M3 Backfire-C

* An improved Tu-22M variant, the "Tu-22M3", was introduced into operation in 1983, once again going into service with both the VVS and Naval Aviation. Crews nicknamed it the "Troika (Trio)", as opposed to the "Dvoika (Deuce)", the Tu-22M2. NATO assigned the type the reporting name "Backfire-C". The Tu-22M3 featured new NK-25 engines, providing an afterburning thrust of 245 kN (16,800 kgp / 55,115 lbf) each and with a much longer time between overhauls. Entirely new inlets were designed for the NK-25s, replacing the dee-type inlets of earlier Tu-22M variants with box ramp inlets, like those on the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle. Thanks to an aggressive weight-loss program, the Tu-22M3 also weighed 3 tonnes (3.3 tons) less.

The new propulsion scheme and lower weight raised top speed from Mach 1.65 on the Tu-22M2 to Mach 2.05 on the Tu-22M3, and increased range by 33%. The armament was substantially improved by introduction of the Raduga Kh-15 (NATO AS-16 Kickback) solid-fuel missile, with six carried in a rotary launcher plugged into the bombbay. It was a simple spike of a missile, very similar to the US AGM-69A Short-Range Attack Missile (SRAM). Like the SRAM, the Kh-15 was primarily designed for "defense suppression" when the Tu-22M3 was performing strikes on ground targets, destroying air-defense sites in the path of the bomber, though it could of course be used for attacks on primary targets as well. Unlike the SRAM, there was also an antiship variant with a radar terminal attack seeker, the "Kh-15A", which flew a "semi-ballistic" trajectory -- climbing to altitude, then screaming down at the target at Mach 5, making it very hard to intercept. All stores carried by the Tu-22M2 could still be carried by the Tu-22M3.

Other changes included increasing the maximum sweep setting from 60 to 65 degrees -- crews were careful not to use this setting on the ground, lest Western spy satellites spot the change -- and fit of some upgraded kit, including a modernized PN-AD radar as well as updated defensive countermeasures gear. As a weight-reduction measure, one of the cannon was deleted from the tail turret. There was some thought of fitting the Tu-22M3 with zero-zero ejection seats, but it didn't happen. Photos of early production seem to hint that the midair refueling probe was moved to the tip of the nose instead of the top of it, but as discussed below, in service the Tu-22M3 wouldn't have a refueling probe.

   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   wingspan (extended)     34.28 meters        112 feet 6 inches
   wingspan (swept)        23.3 meters         76 feet 4 inches
   wing area (extended)    170 sq_meters       1,830 sq_feet   
   length                  42.46 meters        139 feet 4 inches
   height                  11.05 meters        36 feet 4 inches

   empty weight            54,000 kilograms    119,050 pounds
   MTO weight              124,000 kilograms   273,420 pounds

   max speed at altitude   2,300 KPH           1,430 MPH / 1,245 KT
   service ceiling         13,300 meters       43,635 feet
   range                   6,800 kilometers    4,225 MI / 3,675 NMI
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

From the mid-1980s, a dozen Tu-22M3s were built to a reconnaissance standard for Soviet Naval Aviation. These machines were designated "Tu-22M3(R)" or just "Tu-22MR". Exactly what gear they were fitted with it unclear, but they had a belly fairing along the lines of the Shompol SLAR fitted to the Tu-22RDM. Other Tu-22M3s may have also been converted to this configuration. A prototype was also built of an "escort jammer" platform, the "Tu-22MP", but it did not enter service. One Tu-22M3 was modified as a trials platform to test systems for an advanced "Tu-22M4", but that program was canceled; and the "Tu-22M5" never got out of the paper stage.

* 268 Tu-22M3s, including all subvariants, were built up to 1993, when the collapse of the Soviet Union ended production of the Tu-22M series, with a total of 497 built, all at Kazan. No dedicated trainer version of the Tu-22M series was built, but the Tupolev Tu-134 jetliner -- a twinjet comparable to and broadly similar to the US McDonnell Douglas DC-9 -- was adapted as a trainer. The "TU-134UBK" trainer had a long nose like that of the Tu-22M (as well as the bigger Tupolev Tu-160 "Blackjack" strategic bomber); it was fitted with bomber radar and other combat avionics to familiarize crews in the operation of their service mounts.

Tupolev Tu-134UBK/L

The handling of the Tu-134UBK was actually comparable to that of the Tu-22M with its swing wings extended, making the Tu-134UBK a workable facsimile at lower purchase and operational cost. 90 were obtained; one was modified with slightly different avionics to provide training for antiship attack and redesignated "Tu-134UBL".

A number of Tu-22Ms were used for test and trials, sometimes being redesignated "TU-22M3LL". No Tu-22Ms were sold on the export market, though apparently it hasn't been for lack of trying. Some sources suggest that four were leased to India, however.

* The following table summarizes Tu-22M variants and construction:

  variant     NATO         built  mod   notes

  Tu-22M0     Backfire-A       9        initial prototypes
  Tu-22M1              -       9        service evaluation machines
  Tu-22M2     Backfire-B     211        initial Mach 1.4 service version
  Tu-22M3     Backfire-C     268        Mach 2 service version
  Tu-22M3(R)  Backfire-C       -   12*  naval reconnaissance conversion
  Tu-22MP     Backfire-C       -    3*  escort jammer prototypes

                             497       TOTAL TU-22M PRODUCTION
  * It is somewhat unclear if the Tu-22M3(R)s & Tu-22MPs were conversions
    or new-build aircraft.  In any case, they are included in the total of
    268 Tu-22M3s built.


* Aircrews who had been flying the Tu-22 and who got their hands on the Tu-22M2 early on were delighted with their new mount. The Tu-22M2 actually had reasonable cockpit accommodations, and the aircrew could see out of the thing. Handling was much better -- and thanks to the swing wing, take-offs and landings were no longer an exercise in terror. If there was an accident, the upward-firing ejection seats provided a much higher probability of survival.

There were some small complaints, such as the lack of a toilet, which was more than merely a nicety for long missions. However, after the initial infatuation wore off, reality set in, and the complaints started to increase. The Tu-22M2 was a vastly better design than the Tu-22, but as time went on the Soviet Union found it ever harder to keep up with the leading edge of miltech as set by the West, and the reliability of the aircraft's systems was not the best. The electronic systems were buggy and quick to fail, the NK-22 engines had to be completely overhauled every 50 hours, and at low level -- supposedly the Tu-22M2's normal combat environment -- rivets would pop out of the engine inlets, potentially resulting in catastrophic engine damage. Crews altered the Tu-22M2's descriptive designation of "all-weather missile carrier" to "all-weather defect carrier". Update programs were implemented to deal with the worst bugs, and the Tu-22M3 program also addressed at least some of the problems.

Tu-22M Backfire warloads

* If Tu-22M aircrews had mixed feelings about their machine, it gave the Americans fits. Western intelligence had many misunderstandings about the Backfire, with some Western sources suggesting that a Tu-22 had been converted with swing wings as a demonstrator, a notion that had no basis in fact. On the other hand, many Western sources believed that the new machine was designated "Tu-26" and rejected leaks of the "Tu-22M" designation as seen as typical Soviet misinformation, an attempt to conceal the new machine as just another variant of the "Blinder". It was in fact misinformation, but it was more as a sales job on the Kremlin than as a trick to fool anyone else.

In the late 1970s, the US government was conducting Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) with the USSR, the tone of the discussions becoming increasingly cranky over time. The period of detente established by US President Richard Nixon earlier in the decade was fading out -- partly due to ham-fisted and provocative actions by the Soviets, partly due to the suspicions of the Americans. The US began to perceive that the USSR was engaging in a strategic arms buildup, and the Backfire was seen as part of the emerging pattern of threats.

In reality, the Tu-22M series had been built for strikes at Western Europe and China, as well as operations against US fleet elements, with little thought given to using it for strategic operations. The US Navy and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) believed that, but the US Air Force (USAF) did not, with USAF intelligence suggesting the Tu-22M had much longer range than it actually did -- and besides, it had a mid-air refueling probe, potentially permitting it to reach any target on the globe.

The problem was aggravated by the fact that Soviet SALT negotiators refused to release any data on the Backfire -- and also used the NATO reporting name in discussions rather than refer to the "Tu-22M", and so correct the mistaken "Tu-26" designation. In the end, the Soviets compromised and yanked the refueling probes from the Backfire fleet. They could be easily put back on if need be and the Americans knew that, but the Americans also realized that the Soviet air tanker fleet was too small to support wide-scale long-range operations, as was the norm for the USAF Strategic Air Command.

Tupolev Tu-22M3 Backfires in flypast

* The Tu-22M of course never actually fired a nuclear shot in anger, but it did fly combat sorties late in the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in the 1980s, with mass formations of up to 16 Tu-22Ms dropping hundreds of tonnes of bombs in a go -- with devastating effect.

When the USSR finally collapsed in 1991, a total of 370 Tu-22Ms was still in service, with 210 flying with the VVS and 160 flown by Naval Aviation. Some of the Tu-22Ms ended up in the hands of former Soviet states, including Belorussia and the Ukraine, though the Ukrainians phased out their Tu-22M fleet.

Russian Tu-22Ms are believed to have performed a few sorties during the fighting in the rebellious Russian province of Chechnya in the 1990s, and one was shot down by a SAM during Russia's war with Georgia in 2008. They also conducted combat missions from 2016 in support of the Syrian government, performing bomb raids on insurgent groups.

The Russian Air Force is now modernizing its Tu-22M3 aircraft, the upgrade featuring:

The first upgrade was performed in 2009 for trials, with five were returned to service in 2015, and about 30 machines updated by 2020. The Russians are working on the development of a replacement aircraft, of which no details have been provided yet.



* As concerns copyrights and permissions for this document, all illustrations and images credited to me are public domain. I reserve all rights to my writings. However, if anyone does want to make use of my writings, just contact me, and we can chat about it. I'm lenient in giving permissions, usually on the basis of being properly credited.

* Sources include:

Some comments on recent use were also obtained from the online Wikipedia.

Tupolev Tu-22 Blinder

* Revision history:

   v1.0.0 / 01 jun 09 
   v1.0.1 / 01 may 11 / Review & polish.
   v1.0.2 / 01 apr 13 / Review & polish.
   v1.0.3 / 01 oct 16 / Review & polish.
   v1.0.4 / 01 sep 18 / Review & polish.
   v1.0.5 / 01 jul 20 / Review & polish.